Sarajevo Roses in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
Sarajevo Roses were what brought me to the Balkans in the first place.
If you’re unaware of the Sarajevo Roses, they are the remains of mortar explosions on the sidewalks of Sarajevo. In the cases where these shells resulted in someone’s death, the holes in the sidewalk were filled in with red plaster, creating sort of a flower-shape.
As you can see, most of the Roses above are no longer red; over time the colour has faded and some pieces have been chipped away. The war ended 16 years ago. As the city of Sarajevo is being repaired, the Roses are disappearing.
I learned about the Sarajevo Roses when I was doing a project on the dissolution of Yugoslavia in school (which is also when I first got interested in the Balkans). I was extremely sad that this piece of history was disappearing and these Roses would soon be gone forever.
I really, really wanted to see a Sarajevo Rose before they were all gone. But at the time I was only 16, my family had no money for any kind of travel, and I thought that it would be several years before I could ever go abroad, so I thought that I would never get the chance. This actually depressed me very deeply. I was already captivated by the story of the siege of Sarajevo.
Four years later, through amazing luck, I was able to study in France. This was an enormous shock to me, since I hadn’t thought I’d be able to go abroad until at least a few years after university, but all the factors had aligned in my favour, and I had this amazing opportunity.
Near the end of the year, I was reading about the Bosnian War again, and I saw another picture of a Sarajevo Rose. The possibility of going there hadn’t occurred to me before, but suddenly it was all I could think about: Sarajevo was in Europe. I was now in Europe. I could go to Sarajevo. I could see a Sarajevo Rose before they all disappeared.
As the end of my time abroad got closer, I began to make plans. At first I thought I would only visit Sarajevo, but it was expensive to fly there, so I started looking at other airports in the area. I decided on Budapest. But to get from Budapest to Sarajevo, I might as well stop in some places along the way, right? And I learned that Kosovo was actually open to travelers, so of course I had to go there, too. Eventually my plans for this one little trip to Sarajevo turned into a major, two-and-a-half-week journey through most of the Balkans.
My family in France (whom I was staying with while at school) were very unhappy that I had decided to spend my last month in Europe and all my remaining money in the Balkans. They thought it was dangerous, and asked me why I wouldn’t like I nice trip to Italy or Spain instead.
I was extremely firm because I had to see it for myself. I wanted to see a Rose, I wanted to see Sarajevo and Kosovo and the scars that remained from the war before all of it disappeared. I’m from Canada; there has not been a war on our own territory for almost two hundred years. I needed to see what had happened in the former Yugoslavia to understand this violence that was so foreign to me.
My family still thought I was crazy and they told me so. They thought it sounded like a stupid idea, going all the way to Bosnia, a former war zone, because I had some romantic notion of seeing a Sarajevo Rose before they were gone. But it turned into an experience that literally changed my life.